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Rifleman revealed


Lesney Toy collectors will be fascinated to see this rare original photograph of the Rifleman Public House which stood on Union Row, Edmonton.

This is where the Lesney story began back in 1947 when Rodney Smith agreed to rent the condemned Rifleman Pub for two pounds per week. Smith had spent several months searching for suitable premises before discovering the Rifleman which was built in 1866 and originally called The Volunteer.

No photographs of the Rifleman were thought to exist and for many years the only visual reference of it for toy collectors’ being an artists’ impression published in Collecting Matchbox Diecast Toys, The First Forty Years by Kevin McGimpsey and Stewart Orr in the late 1980s.

Now everyone can see what the real Rifleman pub looked like after a photograph of it was discovered in a skip and published by the National Brewery Heritage Trust (NBHT).

It looks surprisingly different to the artists’ sketch in the book and fits perfectly with the recollections of Leslie and Rodney Smith and Lesney toolmaker Jack Odell. Odell was offered working space at the old pub as a toolmaker and is said to have paid the weekly two pounds rent on the building in return.

As can be seen in the photograph the Rifleman was small with one front bar and a rear parlour. There were three rooms upstairs and a cellar below ground where a die casting machine was installed. Outside there was a shed with a corrugated iron roof which was used to operate half a dozen hand-operated presses. Sorting and assembly was carried out in the upstairs rooms with the spraying being outsourced.

Toys were not made in the very early days as Lesney was pitching for all types of diecasting work. One of the first orders was for ten thousand simple string cutters, followed by another for thousands of ceiling plates for the General Electric Company. Before long Lesney had produced around 35 different industrial moulds and dies and were employing eight workers in very hot and cramped conditions.

The first toy made at the Rifleman was a virtual copy of the Dinky Toy Aveling Barford Road Roller in 1948. Other toys soon followed including a Cement Mixer, Crawler Tractor, Crawler Bulldozer and Prime Mover. Lesney moved to new premises at Shaclewell Lane, Dalston, in 1949 and the Rifleman was demolished soon after they left.

The photograph of the Rifleman is one of around 3,000 images of old pubs rescued from a skip by Robert Humphreys, a former area manager for Charrington’s Brewery. They were discarded when the company moved offices around 25 years ago and, after being rescued, were stored at the Bass Museum at Burton-on-Trent for many years. Now the images have been scanned and cleaned digitally and put online by Historypin as part of a nationwide project.

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